- By Joel Hruska on August 6, 2015 at 4:02 pm
Share This article
If you’ve been hoping for a 4K Blu-ray upgrade to show off a swank new 4K television, Christmas 2015 should be the highlight of your year. According to Victor Matsuda, the Blu-ray Disc Association’s Global Promotions Committee Chair, 4K Blu-ray discs will be available for the holiday season, along with a bevy of new technologies and additional features. In addition to supporting 4K resolutions, the new discs include support for multiple types of high dynamic range (HDR) lighting, and a new “digital bridge” feature.
The digital bridge feature is the physical media world’s method of offering the kind of digital convenience that streaming services sell standard. According to an interview with Matsuda, the digital bridge will offer two functions: copy and export. “Copy” permits a bit-for-bit copy to be stored on an authorized media drive, while “export” allows a file to be transferred to an authorized media device. It’s not clear which devices will be considered “authorized,” and whether or not the licensing terms will allow for transcoding into different formats for playback on specific devices. The fact that two different standards have been created for fundamentally similar practices suggests that “copy” may be for storing copies of a movie directly on an Ultra HD Blu-ray (that’s the official 4K name) while “export” could allow a film to be shifted to a tablet or smartphone.
To buy or not to buy
The big question, of course, is whether or not Blu-ray UHD is going to find much of a market. When 720 and 1080p movies hit retail shelves nearly ten years ago, they were an immediate and obvious upgrade over DVDs, just as DVDs had been a huge upgrade over VHS. With 4K, the differences become more subtle, and the advantage depends more on the quality of the encode and the size of the TV you’ll be watching. If you have a 32-inch 1080p screen, you may not notice much improvement from 4K output. If you’re planning to install an 80-inch monstrosity, on the other hand, 4K will be a huge upgrade, even compared with upscaled 1080p.
BD UHD will be popular with users who have limited bandwidth, low-speed connections, or who simply want to enjoy the absolute best-quality screen, but the standard may be slow to percolate, especially since video-on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have likely sopped up at least some of the potential customer base. Studios who rush to market with the same handful of remastered titles that they previously offered on 1080p may find viewers less interested this time around. Upgrading from an old VHS to a 1080p version of a movie was worth calling it a “remastered” edition, but the 1080p to 4K jump is going to be much smaller as far as the objective final quality of the film.
It’s hard to get a handle on how much better current Blu-ray is than streaming services because the quality can vary sharply from movie to movie. In some head-to-head comparisons, Blu-ray wins by a mile, while in others, the gap is extremely hard to see. Finally, as far as we know, neither Sony nor Microsoft supports Blu-ray Ultra HD content in their respective game consoles. Both companies could hypothetically include support in future generations of the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, but not without replacing the conventional Blu-ray player with a more advanced model.
It’s expected that new players will retain the option to play 1080p Blu-ray discs, just as modern Blu-ray players can still handle DVDs without a problem. There’s no plan for a 3D standard for media players this time around, because there’s no native 4K 3D content. The shift to 10-bit color, however, should pay dividends — provided that television manufacturers cooperate by shipping panels that can actually display movies in that mode.